The Dentist Magazine.

New research reveals spiralling costs are causing mouth cancer survivors serious stress and anxiety

Published: 14/11/2017

Spiralling costs of ongoing healthcare placed on mouth cancer survivors are leaving them with severe levels of anxiety and stress, research from a leading charity has discovered. 

A study carried out by the Oral Health Foundation has found cancer diagnoses leaves us ‘afraid’, ‘concerned’, ‘scared’ and ‘angry’, with financial worries playing a significant role in these feelings.

Mouth cancer survivors are usually left with permanent and complicated oral health side-effects as a result of their cancer treatment

This often leads to expensive dental treatment which they are expected to finance themselves. The charity estimates that mouth cancer sufferers have to pay a minimum of £977.20 in dental costs annually, more than 23 times the average annual cost of just £41.20.  

The Oral Health Foundation is appealing for people to be aware of the signs, symptoms and causes of mouth cancer in order to ensure they can protect against it and catch any cases early enough for timely intervention, helping to improve their quality of life, increase their chances of beating the disease and potentially preventing the need for extensive ongoing oral health treatment.

Dr Chet Trivedy, Trustee of the Oral Health Foundation said, “Mouth cancer treatment characteristically leaves people with permanent, challenging oral health problems such as chronic pain and discomfort, significant tooth loss, dry mouth and severe gum disease, requiring long term dental care.

“This means they regularly have frequent dental visits, which under the current NHS dental model, they have to pay for themselves.

“With NHS dental charges ranging from £20.60 to £244.30 (the current top and bottom NHS band charges), multiple visits a month can see the costs add up quickly, becoming unmanageable for most. In addition, dental implants, which are often required to replace missing teeth, are currently not available on the NHS and remain unaffordable for many patients.

“By being aware and catching mouth cancer cases early we believe it can help limit the physical impact of treatment and therefore the financial impact associated with it. By checking regularly for unusual red or white patches in the mouth, ulcers which don’t heal after two weeks and any lumps in the head and neck area they can catch any potential mouth cancer cases early.”

Further research from the Oral Health Foundation reveals overwhelming public support for dental charge exemptions for mouth cancer patients, with more than four in every five (85 per cent) believing the current system to be ‘unfair’ and a change in legislation should be brought in to help ease the burden upon them.

The charity is concerned that mouth cancer patients are being financially penalised for being diagnosed with cancer and call for government to offer exemptions for these groups.

Dr Trivedy added, “After treatment, mouth cancer patients often have problems with swallowing, drinking and eating. Speech may also be affected.  Facial disfigurement is a common side effect of surgical treatment which leaves the patient with additional psychological trauma

“This can lead to other problems such as depression. Difficulties in communication, low self-esteem, social isolation and the impact on relationships can cause as much distress as the cancer itself.

“Facing cancer is one of the very toughest challenges in life, both physically and emotionally, and the effects can be felt long after treatment has taken place. It is important that government recognises this.”

Macmillan Cancer Support has dubbed it ‘cancer’s hidden price tag’ and estimates that four in five (83 per cent) people are, on average, £570 a month worse off as a result of a cancer diagnosis. Income goes down and expenditure rises at a time when money worries should be the last thing on people’s minds.

As part of Mouth Cancer Action Month, which runs throughout November, the Oral Health Foundation is drawing attention to the impact of mouth cancer in the UK and trying to make sure more people are aware of this terrible disease and how to limit its impact.

Dr Henry Clover, director of dental policy at Simplyhealth Professionals, the sponsor of Mouth Cancer Action Month, spoke about what people can do to help manage dental costs, “Whilst many people are anxious about the cost of regular dental care – not to mention unexpected treatment – there are ways to budget for this, which can take away some of the worry. A dental payment plan such as Denplan, which can include supplementary insurance to cover mouth cancer treatment, is an easier way to manage your finances and allows you to have regular access to private dental care.

“There is no doubt that having regular check-ups with your dentist, where you can discuss any concerns or ask questions about mouth cancer risks and symptoms, is the best way to help look after your oral health. For many of us, seeing a dentist ‘regularly’ is about one or two times per year, and by doing so your dentist is far more likely to spot any potential signs of mouth cancer or other oral health issues early on, which is so crucial in fighting the disease.”

Mouth cancer claims more lives than cervical and testicular cancer combined every year in the UK, and almost 90 per cent of cases can be linked back to lifestyle factors; smoking, drinking to excess and the human papillomavirus (HPV), yet awareness of its signs, symptoms and of the disease itself remain dangerously low.

Mouth Cancer Action Month runs throughout November and is organised by the Oral Health Foundation and sponsored by Simplyhealth Professionals. The charity campaign is aiming to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer, in order to get more cases caught early enough to make a difference to the chances of survival.

Mouth cancer can affect anyone so everybody needs to be able to recognise and act on the early warning signs in order to improve early diagnosis and help save lives which otherwise could be lost to this terrible disease.

Find out more information about the signs, symptoms and causes of mouth cancer and how you can get involved in Mouth Cancer Action Month 2017 at www.mouthcancer.org.